by Dr. Danny Recio, PhD
Once physiological needs are met, people crave: safety, belonging and mattering, before they can reach self-actualization. Self-actualization is the fulfillment of one's mission, a fuller knowledge of the person's intrinsic nature, and the unceasing trend toward integration within the person. Many of us have privilege of experiencing the safest time in human history when it comes to physical health, violence and ability to fend against natural disasters and disease; however, belonging and mattering is much more difficult than ever before. Societies are immensely large, not just because of the sheer number of people on the planet, but also because they are extremely interconnected. This "global" perspective makes the existence of one single individual appear insignificant, especially in comparison to the images and narratives the media portray. People seek happiness, success and peace in a world so fast, complex and impersonal that people even struggle to find the self that could potentially be happy, succesful and peaceful.
The dissatisfaction of such important needs as belonging and mattering provokes nihilism, exaggerated attempts at asserting a self (selfishness, histrionic tendencies, etc.) and many other unhealthy behaviors (bullying, drug-use, anxiety, depression). The deficiency in belonging and mattering trickle down in the hierarchy and shake up the foundation, leading to loss in safety (e.g. anxiety) and physiological health (e.g. illness due to stress). This deficiency also prevents reaching upward in the hierarchy toward
self-actualization, inhibiting people from transcending themselves. In other words, they cannot grow as a person, and thus remain stunted, immature, and even perhaps child-like.
This seems to lead people to feeling lost, adrift without a captain of their own ship, without the lead in the script of their own lives. This is much more the case in younger generations, because they are growing up in an exponentially larger (i.e. interconnected) world, who needs them less (due to advances in technology), demands more (because of trends in economy and perfectionism), and connects with them less (because of tendencies toward decreased face to face time between people). Thus, one could say younger generations might not have even lost themselves, as they have not even created themselves. They are not adrift in the ocean of life, because the ship hasn’t even sailed.
When asked, adolescents and emerging adults will say that the markers of reaching adulthood are financial independence, independence in decision-making, and acceptance of responsibility. The direction of the idea makes sense, but the use of the concept of independence is inaccurate. Independence, dependence or even interdependence are not at the core of the issue, as they speak of the degree of influence or control from others in one’s actions. This is important, but what truly makes a difference here is the degree ofself-generation, which speaks of how much is originating from within. Reaching the point of adulthood should mean that one is making the transition from having all aspects of one’s life originate from the outside, to originating more from within. Motivation, finances, problem-solving, learning, the satisfaction of basic and complex needs, all of these ought to move from a place of outer-generation when we are younger, to a place of self-generation as we develop. The variable of independence does not matter here, as one is always interconnected with the environment, always needs it, and always draws resources from it, and hopefully gives as much back as well. Self-generation, instead, is about where the initial force, energy and motion are coming from when taking care of a need or fulfilling a goal, and who is keeping the process going toward completion.
Integrative growth is the type of learning that leads to self-generation. In learning experiences or processes, especially those that are facilitated by others, there is a strong tendency to facilitate growth that is induced and where the learner remains passive -- being a patient, like in psychiatry or psychology. Facilitating learning that leads to self-generation requires a sophisticated and careful approach, especially because the tendency in our culture is to focus on content outcomes, like grades in education, or symptom reduction in psychotherapy. Passive learners are good for business, because they’ll always need facilitators, but not good for social development.
Integrative growth is not just about self-generating, it is also coherent, so the person grows as a whole and not just parts at the expense of others. For example, one doesn’t grow financially but at the expense of diminished health. Integrative growth is also inclusive, so as the person grows, others around grow as well: his family, community, etc. Finally, integrative growth is sustainable, so the growth now makes growth more likely in the future. These three elements are possible because of the self-generating nature of integrative growth, as without this characteristic one cannot permeate growth toward one’s whole being, toward others and perpetuate it toward the future.
All living beings are biologically self-generating; they combine inert elements and activate them in combination in order to grow in a self-generating way. Machines cannot do this, as they require external forces to induce action and keep it going. People in learning processes must function like organisms, and not machines, and must combine different elements to activate self-generated learning. The elements that when activated lead to self-generating growth are: proactive purposefulness, resilience, open collaboration, problem-solving creativity, and self-governance. These five working together are called the integrative function, and are signs that self-generation and hence integrative growth is taking place.
Supportive Immersion / Supported Immersion ©2017
Dr. Danny Recio, PhD & Dr. Heather Tracy, EdD